Israel's Justice Ministry Seeks to Allow Police to Install Hidden Video Cameras in Suspects' Homes

Proposed amendment to Wiretapping Law draws fire from opposition lawmakers, legal advisers.

Police would be allowed under certain circumstances to install hidden video cameras in suspects' homes, under legislation being promoted by the Justice Ministry.

The proposed amendment to the Wiretapping Law, which was debated in a Knesset committee on Monday, drew a scathing condemnation from the Public Defender's Office, which described the amendment as "an attempt to permit, in a vague and roundabout way, the most invasive and harmful means of investigation possible, which have no precedent in Israeli jurisprudence."

police - Daniel Tchetchik - November 23 2011
Daniel Tchetchik

Justice Ministry official Ravid Dekel told the members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that listening to wiretapped conversations may not be enough to indicate whether a crime has been committed.

Therefore, she said, there may be cases in which it would be appropriate to allow visual documentation, while making sure to balance the right to privacy with the needs of the investigation.

Elazar Kahana, a lawyer representing the Israel Police, cited bribery as an example of a crime that could be committed without the suspects speaking at all.

Committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) said he would expect that any video monitoring would be approved only if the police file a specific, detailed request, rather than enforce it in a sweeping fashion.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) referring to Israel as "a 'Big Brother' society in which everything is photographed," adding: "The question is whether we want to live in such a society."

The committee's legal advisers also expressed reservations about the bill. "There is no way to casually compare wiretapping to filming," the advisers wrote in their legal opinion.

They added that if the panel would vote to allow visual documentation, it would have to very clearly delineate the circumstances under which courts could approve it.

Current law allows police to request permission from a court to eavesdrop on phone conversations to uncover, investigate or prevent any type of serious crime, and to expose or catch criminals who have committed such crimes. It is also allowed as part of an effort to seize property linked to a crime.

Over the years, police have been criticized for over-reliance on wiretapping, the use of which has increased over the years. In 2004 there were 962 wiretapping request submitted to the courts, compared with 1,797 in 2008 and 2,283 in 2010.

The proposed amendment was first submitted to the Knesset in 2008, based on recommendations made seven years ago by the Mashiah Committee, which had been appointed to regularize police wiretapping.

The committee was set up in response to the case of Israel Police Maj. Gen. Moshe Mizrahi, who was accused of improperly using wiretaps when he headed the international investigations department. Then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein described police wiretapping policies during that period as "overzealous."

The bill was sent back to the Justice Ministry with a request to check how the amendment could be implemented in a careful and proportionate fashion, and how those safeguards would be expressed in the amendment.